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Perspective: Detroit International Bridge Co. pays for political influence

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Posted: Saturday, August 8, 2015 5:26 pm

Some community advocates who oppose the Riverside Park swap, like former state representative Rashida Tlaib, speculate that there are covert monetary ties between Mayor Duggan and Moroun, but the only on-the-books financial connection between the two parties is $3,400 that son Matthew Moroun donated to Duggan during his bid for Detroit Mayor.

During the 2013 mayoral election, the young Moroun infused the same amount of cash into the candidacy of Duggan’s opponent, Benny Napoleon, and overall the Moroun family donated $13,600 to the Napoleon campaign. DIBC President Dan Stamper, along with his wife, contributed another $6,800. To try and seal the former Wayne County sheriff’s fate as mayor-elect, Central Transport, the Moroun’s Warren-based trucking company, donated $50,000 to the Napoleon-backing Detroit Forward Super PAC.

At the time, the reasons for the Morouns’ backing of Napoleon were obvious, as the former Wayne County sheriff was a vocal and public opponent of Gov. Snyder’s proposal to build a second bridge linking Detroit and Canada.

In the same election cycle, the trucking magnates’ donated a total of $16,000 across seven candidates for Detroit city council, four of which obtained office, including Gabe Leland, Mary Sheffield, Scott Benson and Andre Spivey.

Being in the favor of the city council is important to Moroun in the case of the Riverside Park deal, as it must go through them for approval.

If the land swap does make it through the council, it will move on for approval by bureaucrats at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the federally-run National Park Service. Since these are appointed—rather than elected—public servants, there are no campaign contributions to examine from Moroun.

However, since these civil servants are appointed by elected officials, it is worth mentioning the copious amounts of campaign contributions that the Morouns have shelled out for both state and federal elections.

The family gave $550,000 in political contributions during the 2010 election cycle, and another $225,000 in 2011—$100,000 of which went to the Michigan Republican Party. In federal elections, they’ve spent well over $1 million since 2010.

How much power and influence such funds are used to curry favor in legislative dealings can only be speculated, however there is proof that Moroun has the potential to buy public officials.

Take Paul Opsommer—member of the Michigan House of Representatives from January 2007 to January 2013, who served as the chair of the House Transportation Committee from 2011 to 2012.

During his time in the House, Opsommer supported fellow Republican Gov. Rick Snyder on many important issues, except for one: the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in Detroit, of which he was vehemently opposed. The District 93 representative even went as far as to write an op-ed regarding the NITC in the Lansing State Journal, where he said that he was “deeply concerned that citizens in my district and statewide will be stuck sending their tax dollars to Detroit for an unneeded and unlawful project.”

In early 2013, when term limits forced Opsommer to give up his seat in the House, he was hired as the director of government affairs and a registered lobbyist for CenTra Inc., the holding company of the Detroit International Bridge Co.—in essence, putting him directly in Moroun’s pocket.

Taking all of this into consideration, two things can be said: First, it looks as if Opsommer doesn’t feel like a second bridge is unneeded anymore. And second, that money is a heck of a tool in making political friends.

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